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New West school district lobbies to save Hume Park Home Learners Program

B.C. Ministry of Education policy changes that replaced 'distributed learning' with 'online learning' leave the program's fate in limbo
The New Westminster school district is working to keep the Hume Park Home Learners Program running in the face of B.C. Ministry of Education policy changes that have thrown its future into doubt.

The New Westminster school district wants to make sure the Hume Park Home Learners Program doesn’t fall through the cracks with changes to distance learning in B.C.

School trustees agreed to write an advocacy letter on behalf of the program to the Ministry of Education, after the ministry announced changes to distance learning in the province.

Hume Park Home Learners is considered a “distributed learning” program, but that definition will no longer exist when policy changes come into effect for the 2022/23 school year.

The changes call for “online learning,” rather than distributed learning, meaning the primary means of communication with students and families is to be via the internet.

Hume Park doesn’t fit that definition.

What is Hume Park Home Learners?

The Hume Park Home Learners Program, based in the former elementary school building at Hume Park, currently has about 120 students enrolled in kindergarten through Grade 8 – half from within the New Westminster school district and half from outside its boundaries.

“The large majority of learning is happening at home, but still guided by the teacher,” explained principal Jennifer Scorda in a presentation to the school board’s education committee on Jan. 18.

Families develop learning plans in partnership with teachers, following the B.C. curriculum, and students learn both at home and on site. The program gives families access to the same supports they’d find in a traditional school – teacher, counsellor, resource teacher, speech language pathologist – but students can learn in the ways that work for them.

Students participate in some class and small-group learning on site, both inside the school and outdoors in the surrounding park and greenspace along the Brunette River.

What are the school district’s options for the future?

Scorda said the school district has been very supportive in helping the program figure out its options for the future.

It’s already submitted an expression of interest to become a designated provincial online learning school, which would allow it to continue taking in out-of-district students.

It’s also looking at how it could potentially operate as a district “program of choice” at Hume Park, with whatever adjustments the ministry would require for that to happen.

The district has also been working with the ministry to find ways to make the program fit within the definition of “online school.”

“We are working really closely with the Ministry of Education to address the gap that’s been created in the policy revisions,” Scorda said. “We are looking at all options and have been very well supported by the district in really assessing what our options to move forward are, and how we can best do that for all of our families.”

Why does Hume Park Home Learners matter?

Parent Chelle Ostlund encouraged trustees to help find ways to keep the program alive. Her family moved from Aldergrove into New West because of it.

“I would not be anywhere else. I’m glad we moved, especially given the circumstances,” she said.

“The staff are flexible, kind; being that other safe adult for so many struggling, special-needs and complex children that I haven’t heard of my friends who are in bricks-and-mortar (schools) experiencing.”

Ostlund said interest is high among homeschooling parents from other areas, but many were hesitant to enrol in the program this past school year because its future was uncertain.

“This is the kind of program that, if it is maintained as an out-of-district option, will continue, will grow and flourish,” she said.

Karen Blackburn, who co-founded the Hume Park Home Learners Program 20 years ago, thanked trustees for agreeing to write an advocacy letter on its behalf.

“It was a ministry policy change that allowed us to create this program,” she said. “It seems such a shame that their new wording could completely cut us out.”

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